Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #493
How To Design A Campaign
This Week's Tips Summarized
How To Design A Campaign
Game Master Tips & Tricks
- Tips On Handling Gods In Play
- Free Pathfinder Campaign Website Template
- Use Lyrics For Scrolls
- Super-Detailed World Building PC Game
A Brief Word From Johnn
Congratulations To The Pick Pockets Contest Winners
My trip to Chicago and the Web Content Conference there last
week was excellent. I missed the Stanley Cup party by one
day, which was a blessing as getting from my downtown hotel
to the airport would have been difficult.
I just now had a chance to collate entries and roll for the
winners. The winners, drawn at random, were:
I'll be putting entries in upcoming issues in the For Your
Game section. Thanks to http://www.nbos.com for supplying
prizes for the contest.
I have prizes lined up for the next contest now, which will
be taking place soon, so stay tuned.
Interesting Game Master Links For You
- A hodge podge of links I've tweeted or re-tweeted recently
- RPG Creatures - a free online Bestiary
- 10 Ways to Use Google Books for Lifelong Learning and
- Neat idea for creating minis without the cheap feel
- Random backgrounds for your campaign
- Solo Acts: The Worldbreaker (D&D 4E)
- Amazing Buildings from RPG dumping ground
- Kate Monk's Onomastikon (Dictionary of Names)
- Medieval Names Archive
- Pathfinder spell card generator
Have a great week. Try to fit some gaming in.
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How To Design A Campaign
By Ria Kennedy
Ria Kennedy Facebook
1. Create Events And Timeline
Designing a campaign can be so overwhelming that GMs prefer
to make it up as they go and hope they can somehow hold it
all together. I have found simple tricks to make a light,
simple campaign that is elegantly flexible but fleshed out
just enough to maintain cohesion. Even when your players
take the long way by making random choices or throwing out
odd-ball suggestions, you'll be ready.
Start by laying the groundwork for your game sessions with
- What major events happened in the past? What major figures
- real, legendary or mythical - exist?
Example: There was a peaceful kingdom, ruled by a generous
Queen, loved by all her people. One day, the kingdom came
under attack and was taken over by a tyrant and his armies.
Some say the Queen still exists, somewhere. Others say she
is a ghost. Still others claim she has become some sort of
enchantress: part human part wylde thing.
- What major events are happening presently - and how might
that affect or hook the PCs?
Example: Some say there is a rebellion and rebels plan to
cast down the tyrant and the lawless, bloodthirsty people
who follow him. Mayhap the PCs can join this rebellion and
help. If they do, over time, they can progress through the
ranks to lead and possibly become advisors to the new
Offer them a choice to join the rebellion. They can fight
for freedom against tyranny, try to stay safe without taking
sides while still looking out for themselves, or join the
bad guys and fight the rebellion. Once the PCs decide, new
choices emerge for you, such as helping, hindering,
traveling to distant lands to escape this tortured kingdom.
- What impact might the PCs have on the future of their
world - and what choices does that mean you will have to
give them as GM?
Example: The PCs can save the kingdom, become adventurers or
mercenaries working for whoever pays them top-dollar,- or
become part of the evil horde and work to take over the
- Define the political system. This is critical. Is the
country a monarchy, democracy, republic, anarchy,
federation, feudatory? What is the judicial system and
system of law and police like?
Example: Political System: Monarchy. Martial Law dictated by
Dark Knights and the Corrupt Lords and Ladies.
- Types of stories: Skirmishes, ambushes, rescues, and so
on. In my example, the PCs could hunt rebels to take away
their caches and resources. If they pick the evil side, they
will also vie for power and struggle for survival. If they
stay neutral, either type of story can work, possibly
leading them out of the kingdom, bringing new adventures.
- What is the terrain like? Desert, grass, charted,
Example: This is the only known kingdom. It is surrounded by
an almost impenetrable wilderness on the north and desert
and glacier on the remaining three sides.
- What is the time span of the campaign? This is critical.
Sometimes we forget that things like travel and getting
things to progress will take time. So it's possible that
weeks, months, seasons or years can go by while required
background events happen off-screen. The PCs come on when
the interesting bits happen.
Example Campaign Time Span: 5-10 years, either the tyrant is
unseated, or not.
2. Design The Campaign Plot
Now you know the basics of what has happened, what is
happening and where it could potentially go.
You know the most important choices you will give players,
and you are still open to possibilities players may offer
for how to explore this world and its story, and you can
still keep your campaign on track. Right now you have just a
few rough notes. You have to craft them into a vehicle for
an actual campaign. I suggest you keep these as short as
possible, and let the detail come in during actual session
play. I break this campaign plan down into five steps. More
gets too detailed, less isn't detailed enough.
Step 1: The PCs either enter into this kingdom, or get the
offer to join the rebels, because they've got enough of a
reputation or are perhaps related to someone and are
considered to be a potentially viable asset. They make
friends and enemies depending upon which side they choose.
What groups and leader they deal with is based on their
The PCs do some light legwork, which lets them get a feel
for the world and the people in it. They learn about the
problems that it faces - shortages, violence, thieving,
oppression, festivals, or whatever you want to populate it
with as GM. Experiencing the world in play through
adventuring will ground the PCs in the game world reality,
and give them a bias for or against different things based
on their characters' reactions to what they experience and
Step 2: While the PCs are pursuing their agenda, the
resistance is ticking off the tyrant, who is hunting anyone
who might be related to them or helping them. There is a
rumor of underground smuggling of those who have their faces
up and have been identified by the police/Lords/Ladies.
This underground helps any who seek escape.
The kingdom is falling into a shambles. There are refugees
appearing in other untamed and uncharted lands. Leaders are
needed in those areas: people like guides, explorers, and
hunters. Yet those who choose to stay in or are unable to
leave the kingdom still suffer.
Step 3: Someone in the outlands comes back and says they
have found an almost magical stone that will make weapons
unbreakable, and almost always strike critical areas. Others
claim there are riches, but the animals are too wild or the
lands too hostile. They want to come back to the kingdom
and help the resistance. This has mixed results, because
many are untrained peasants. And yet someone else comes back
and says there is a kingdom far to the north over a
dangerous sea and that maybe diplomats should go and ask for
help from this kingdom. A third party comes back and clams
there is a desert fortress, empty except for the singing of
its warrior ghosts. If they can but find a magician or some
means to entice these ghosts to join the fight against the
Step 4: News comes that the tyrant and his people came from
the east and there are more of these barbarians there, and
they plan to rule the world. With this new information, will
the kingdom to the north help? People claim there are places
where magic exists, and that some become magic when they go
there, almost as if they drink it in. They claim a person
can be magical for a while, but then they run out of magic
and must return to these magical areas and refill their
power. If this is true, this secret and these sacred sites
must be hidden and protected from the tyrant and his people!
Many say they have seen the Queen in the city and in various
places all around the world. Is it true that her spirit
Step 5: This is where push comes to shove. By this time, the
PCs have something to gain or lose, because the whole world
is going to be at war. The barbarians are making their move.
The northern kingdom may also fall under the reign of terror
just like the southern kingdom. The rebels may help the
north by attacking the barbarian's eastern stronghold. They
may fight the barbarians in the south because the barbarians
can't get any backup and they will be spread too thin. The
PCs may add to the equation of these or any number of plans.
And the end? Well, you don't write the end to the campaign,
because it ends in play. Successes, losses, loves, hates,
friends and enemies all have progressed through dynamic
interplay. We do not outline what the PCs do. We outline
what's going on in the world, that which the PCs may
interact with, or that which will affect them, give them
opportunities, or maybe take opportunities away.
3. Outline The Most Important Groups
Finally, you outline the most important groups and their
The tyrant king of the southern city and his most favorite
lords and ladies, generals/admirals, police and knights.
The rebels: members the PCs will interact with, and possibly
even the leader if that information is shared with the PCs.
At least one enemy group of the PCs who will last throughout
the entire campaign. Maybe they help the tyrant or the
rebels, depending on the PCs' choice of associates. Possibly
both, if the PCs are free operatives. In this case, it
could be a rival group of mercenaries.
And that's really all you need to start.
Leaders and other people in these groups may disappear, be
jailed, dethroned or killed, with the structure remaining in
place. Perhaps the tyrant is poisoned by his horrible niece,
and upon his death she takes his place on the throne. The
barbarians are still in charge of the city.
Or the rebel leader is arrested. There is a huge capture
operation based on information he gives up under torture,
and many rebels flee the city, but the rebellion goes on.
Or the mercenary enemies take heavy casualties, and for some
reason blame the PCs. Now the survivors are gunning for the
Make your cast dynamic. Characters may come and go for any
number of reasons - they get lame, go insane, quit, and so
on. In all likelihood, the groups will last long. Cast
members may come and go, but if you introduce a group, you
can reused it time and time again.
Be careful when introducing groups because they may help
your campaign or work against it. Consider the five steps of
your plot, what group will compliment your campaign, and
when to bring in that group. You may need to drop a group
at a certain step because it's redundant at that point.
During play, don't be afraid to change or drop a group if
it's not working. You can always introduce a new group or
reintroduce an old one that works well.
Special individuals should be considered valuable or
dangerous because of their unique status. They may belong to
a group, be targets for assassination or capture, or be
feted to join a group because of who they are, what they can
do, what they know, who they know, or what they represent.
Even if this person dies or disappears, their memory,
teachings, lessons and influence may live on, for better or
I hope these ideas help in your campaign.
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For Your Game: 10 Unsettling Moment
By Richard Pett
Originally published at:
- Although Benjy the grey cat likes everyone else in the
tavern, it hisses whenever a certain PC passes by.
- The children start to sing a song about beheading
whenever a certain PC enters the vicinity.
- A strange smell follows one PC throughout the month, a
pervasive graveyard stink that is commented upon behind his
or her back by others.
- Throughout the week, the same scarecrow seems to turn up
in fields the PCs walk past.
- How come the children's nursery rhyme keeps referring to
one of the PCs by name? And worse, why is the rhyme about
eating slugs, bugs, and thugs?
- The same face keeps appearing in crowds everywhere -- a
rotund, somewhat ruddy complexioned fellow with a huge,
flat, red nose. Chug Hoppwell is actually the PC's biggest
fan, and takes great joy in following their exploits -- he's
merely admiring them and has given up his job and home to
see them in action as much as possible.
- In the graveyard, the PCs each find a grave with their
name upon it, most dating from the same year a century ago.
- A seventh daughter of a seventh daughter claims she has
seen one of the PCs in two distinct dreams she's had. In the
first dream, three things happen: he meets her, avoids her,
and is then eaten by a huge six-headed crocodile at
midnight. In the second dream, he meets her, marries her,
and they live happily ever after. After telling her tale,
she smiles toothlessly up at him.
- The wicker men, whose numbers match those of the heroes,
are "merely ornamentation" the locals claim...
- The man in the ancient portrait in the Lord's House does
indeed look exactly like the character. His name? Deathly
Lord Rache the Slayer of Innocents, the devil who swore to
Get 20 more unsettling moments at:
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Game Master Tips & Tricks
Have some GM advice you'd like to share? E-mail it to email@example.com - thanks!
1. Tips On Handling Gods In Play
re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #488
From Daniel Howard
I enjoyed reading "GMing Gods, Demons And Immortals" by
James Yee. I had a few additional ideas about that subject.
One, demigods and mythic heroes can be a good alternative to
having gods directly involved in a game. A half-man/half-
god, or a god's favored hero or consort, can be a larger-
than-life figure who can draw on divine power or knowledge.
A god might have dozens of children and they might have all
kinds of relationships, even rocky ones. Demigods might
betray their divine parent but the parent would be loathe to
blast them to dust.
Two, a god might not reveal his true identity. Maybe the god
hides his identity or just leaves it unclear, and the PCs
have to guess whether or not he is a god or just some
powerful imposter. "I have been known by many names." Maybe
the god shrugs off the question.
Three, a god might be on some mission (or out on a lark)
that only somewhat relates to the PCs. The god is
unreliable: showing up when least expected and unable to be
summoned when most needed.
Four, the god may have greater or lesser power in different
planes or dimensions. Michael Moorcock writes about this in
his Elric book series: on some planes, gods are easily
From Mark of the Pixie
I have had some success running such entities as PCs.
Normally this has been short term guest star roles for an
extra player in a regular ongoing game, but it can also work
for using them as regular characters. (Note this advice is
for inserting a single high power character in low or mid
power games; high power games where all PCs are this
powerful are very different games.)
- Infinite power, limited scope. I had a successful PC who
had the power to fire beams of energy from his hands. He did
not roll damage, he just declared it. He did however need to
roll to hit, and the beam would do damage to things if he
missed or if he fired through his target (by doing more
damage than it had health). He could also be interrupted,
which at one point resulted in him cutting a ship in half
because he was knocked over and his beam went wild.
- Opposite number. I used this for Gandalf in a game I ran.
He could pretty much do anything, but every time he exerted
power the bad guys could do three things of a similar power
level. So if he used his power to just wipe out a village of
goblins, then the bad guys could just wipe out a three human
villages or equivalent. He had the power to level mountains,
but was hesitant to use it (much as Gandalf was). This
encourages players to consider consequences and to use the
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2. Free Pathfinder Campaign Website Template
From Michael Beach
Really enjoy your emails, always some great info. I saw you
are using Pathfinder now. I wanted to bring your attention
to a Pathfinder campaign website template I made for Google
Sites. It conforms to all the Paizo Community Use rules.
I've used it for several campaigns now and it's been helpful
and well-received. The Google Sites interface is intuitive
enough that even people who aren't that computer-savvy can
get the hang of posting and editing pages fairly easily. And
with 100 MB of free space per page (and the ability to
create unlimited pages), it's a fiscal no-brainer.
Additionally, you can set access levels so only you and your
players can see the site, make it open to the world, or
anything in between.
The template is located at:
Pathfinder campaign website template.
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3. Use Lyrics For Scrolls
From Jochen Stutz
I just wanted to share a roleplaying idea that worked
surprisingly well. It was meant to be a stupid joke, but it
turned out to be a nice idea for not-too-serious games.
We've been playing RPGs for 26 years, and my friends
recently asked me to prepare an old-school adventure. We
just thought about the old times in the middle of the
eighties and the guys said, "What about three or four
sessions of pure old-school-fantasy-dungeon mayhem?"
Well, I thought since nobody would take this adventure too
seriously I might as well use a few jokes. When reading the
Manga "Bastards" I always enjoyed the idea of using Heavy
Metal references in a fantasy setting - these genres simply
mix too easily. Having that in mind, I prepared some scrolls
as a handout. On each scroll I printed part of the lyrics of
a song, mostly classic metal, but something from The Sisters
Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim and Bob Marley as well.
The characters discovered those scrolls early in the
adventure, and I informed the magic users that they
obviously contained powerful spells, but would be usable
only once and their effect would be unknown - the only
indication of the effect is in fact what was written on the
The first one was easy - more or less. It was titled "Hells
Bells" and it contained the entire first verse of that
infamous song. When the magic user cast it, the spell did
huge sonic damage. Other examples included the reggae-
classic "Iron Lion Zion" (increased armour protection),
"Hail And Kill" from Manowar (attack bonus for the entire
party) and so on.
To make things even more interesting, one spell was a
powerful curse. I used a truly sinister lyric from "The
As I said, this idea was meant as a joke, but it worked
First advantage: the players had fun figuring the spells and
their uses out. Bear in mind that while we use English
fluently, it is not our native tongue, so it was all the
more challenging. And lyrics often work better in another
language than one's own.
Second advantage: casting a "Hells Bells" is much more fun
that simply saying magic missile. The magic user was fond of
the idea and delivered spontaneously a nice Brian Johnson
imitation (OK, we had a few beers, but still...).
Third advantage: it worked for the mood much better as I
expected. After all, the adventure was meant to be fun, but
even in a more serious environment it might work.
Fourth advantage: somehow magic became something mysterious.
The spell casters were actually quite unsure if they should
unleash a certain spell or not.
All in all I just wanted to share this idea with you. It was
meant as a joke and won't work in very serious games, of
course, but I think the idea has some potential and might be
interesting for some GMs. There are millions of songs with
good and inspiring lyrics, and if the players know the songs
already that works even better!
All the best from Germany and thank you for Rolepaying Tips,
it's truly one of the best resources around!
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4. Super-Detailed World Building PC Game
From Aaron K.
I have been reading your newsletter for some years, and have
enjoyed it. Sadly, I have not had opportunity to actually
try the advice, as my situation has not allowed for
I thought of 2 tools to use in GMing. First is for world
creation: a game called Dwarf fortress.
It revolves around building a dwarven fortress, often with
hilarious results (like my farmer hating blood, and upon
seeing a wounded goblin, freaking out and single-handedly
destroying the invading party; or another unhappy dwarf
deciding to express his unhappiness by making up a mug of his
mate's skull; or storing cheese one floor up from magma and
ending up with giant pool of fondue).
But it also has extremely detailed world generation. It
takes into account erosion, rain shadows, pantheons. It
creates history with tens of thousands of historical
figures tracked, multiple civilizations, and even tracking
individual body parts of historical figures. (That hydra who
has fought your dwarven civilization in history will have
scars, missing teeth and missing nails from it. Yes, it
tracks individual toes, and you can mod it to track
individual hairs if you want to...).
The game is still in alpha, so you can expect it to become
more detailed as time passes. It's also moddable, so I can
imagine it being used as instant world-creation, and
inspiration for comedy. :)
Another one for GMs with writer's block, Talecraft.
I have not tried it, but it seems like great idea for
creating plots, and practicing GMing-on-the-fly, if you play
it with friends. In it you draw one genre card, two
archetype cards (main character and protagonist) and six key
cards (key elements in plot - plotlines, random objects and
so on) and make up a story from those. Not too expensive,
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Johnn Four's GM Guide Books
In addition to writing and publishing this e-zine, I have
written several GM tips and advice books to inspire your
games and to make GMing easier and fun:
How to design, map, and GM fresh encounters for RPG's most
popular locales. Includes campaign and NPC advice as well,
plus several generators and tables
Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not
only expand your game world but provide endless natural
encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks.
Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning guide to
crafting, roleplaying, and GMing three dimensional NPCs for
any game system and genre. This book will make a difference
to your GMing.
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